Posted on Mar 4th, 2006

Stress can be defined as a response of the body to demands placed on it and can be either positive or negative.

Some stress is necessary for optimal functioning. It’s what enables us to give interesting presentations, makes sporting events fun to watch, serves as a protection in dangerous situations, and motivation and energy in challenging ones. People perceive demands differently and what can be motivating for one may be distressing to another.

When the body faces a stressful event, your central nervous system gets ready for action. Certain areas of your brain activate hormones which in turn activate adrenalin. All of this happens within a matter of seconds – you know it’s kicked in when you feel your heart beating faster and your face flush. In the meantime, seventeen other hormones are being released, sending the body into a hyperactive state.

Sugars stored in the liver are released providing quick energy. Your red blood cells release more oxygen, your stomach goes into hibernation allowing more blood to reach your brain and muscles in preparation for flight. Your intestines are affected – either constricting or – yikes, relaxing! If allowed, your body will finally relax after the threat passes.

The problems lie when we are in a chronic state of arousal whether through repeated acute episodes of stress or prolonged chronic states such as through poverty, unemployment, grief and other long term situations.

In episodic acute and chronic stress, your body hasn’t had a chance to turn off the switch and recent research has confirmed negative health effects ranging from cardiac damage, increased susceptibility to viruses, increased headaches, insomnia, GERD, skin problems, stroke and other health issues.

How Do You Respond to Stress?

When experiencing stress, you may be affected totally, not only in your body but also in your emotional reactions, your personal thoughts, and your relations with others.

The following list of stress symptoms contains the most typical reactions to stress. It can also help you begin focusing on ways to manage stress.


Headaches, Fatigue, Insomnia, Weight change, Colds, Digestive upsets, Accident prone, Teeth grinding, Restlessness, Alcohol, drug, or tobacco use, Shoulders tighten up or ache, Pounding heart rate.


Forgetfulness, Dull senses, Poor concentration, Low productivity, Negative attitude, Confusion, Lethargy, No new ideas, Boredom.


Anxiety, The "blues", Mood swings, Bad temper, Crying spells, Irritability, Depression, Nervous laugh, Worrying, Easily discouraged.


Isolation, Resentment, Loneliness, Lashing out, Clamming up, Lowered sex drive, Nagging, Fewer contacts with friends.

Look over the symptoms you’ve experienced and circle those that occur frequently or regularly.

Study your list. Which symptoms cause you the most concern? Are you aware when they are happening to you? Can you stop them from happening? Do you see a pattern in your symptoms? Are they mostly physical? Do they usually involve other people? This might give you a clue in directing your stress management program.

Copyright 2005 - Gariety Group Consulting

Cathy Gariety is a Registered Nurse and CEO of Gariety Group Consulting - a firm specializing in stress management providing services to individuals, corporate and healthcare facilities. She is also Editor of their Stress Buster newsletter. Email for a complimentary Mini Stress Management E-Course delivered to your email address once per week for four weeks.

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